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These cities have the worst urban air pollution in the world: WHO

A man walks along an overpass amid heavy air pollution in Beijing on December 8, 2015. .
A man walks along an overpass amid heavy air pollution in Beijing on December 8, 2015. . Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images

Onitsha, Nigeria holds the dubious crown of the worst air pollution in the world, according to data released Thursday by the World Health Organization.

The river port city has on average about 30 times the WHO recommended amount of particulate matter in its air.

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But it’s hardly alone. WHO says that 98 per cent of residents in large cities of low- and middle-income countries are facing excessively high air pollution.

Although incomplete, the data collected by WHO’s Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database shows that the only cities that consistently meet the organization’s air pollution guidelines are in Western Europe, North America and Australia.

EUROPEAIR

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Along with Nigeria, cities in China, Pakistan, India and the Middle East have particularly poor air quality, often with more than five times the recommended amount of particulate matter in the air their residents breathe. Of the top 10 cities, three are in Nigeria, two in Pakistan, two in Saudi Arabia and one each in Iran, India and Afghanistan.

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But even Canada has a couple of cities that exceed WHO guidelines. Regina is slightly above the guideline, at 25 micrograms per cubic metre of PM10 particulate matter. Courtenay, B.C., sits at 50 per cent more than the guideline: 30. The WHO guideline is 20 micrograms per cubic metre of PM10 particulate matter, that is, air particles less than 10 microns in diameter.

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According to the WHO, air pollution causes a higher risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory disease. The organization estimates that outdoor air pollution in cities and rural areas caused 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012.

You can examine air quality around the world in the map below. Note that the only cities which meet WHO guidelines are the ones marked in blue.

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Notes: Data from the WHO Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database
Cities categorized based on the mean concentrations of particulate matter of less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10). Locations approximate. Some cities could not be mapped and have been removed. See the WHO website for a full explanation of the data’s limitations.

— With files from the Associated Press.